Tuesday, December 06, 2005

When will eBooks fly?

The technology is there. The killer apps? Not quite.

eBooks and eMagazines make my life easeir when it comes to reading. I love them. But not many people do, yet. eBooks have been around in various formats for more than 15 years, but they didn't quite catch up with the general public to become a mainstream medium. They will, but only when their features become too useful to miss. This is when:

We have universal access to our eBooks
I need to reach my ebooks wherever I am, like I reach my photos on Flickr and my favorites on del.icio.us. We are not quite there yet.

Now I have to have a local copy of all of my ebooks, at the office, at home, on my notebook, on my pocket pc. It is a lot of work to keep an updated copy of everything on all devices. And it doesnt always work, as some formats limit the number of 'activated' copies you can have, for copyright protection.

The best attempt at this I have seen is O'Reilly Network's Safari Bookshelf, which gives you an easy way to rent books, put them on your personal bookshelf, and access them from any web browser. Its main drwaback is that it's largely limited to technical books and is mostly focused on books published by O'Reilly.

Part of ubiquitous access is being able to annotate and tag my books and magazines and access those annotations from anywhere. To my knowledge, this is not available yet (Safari let's you just create bookmarks), and it will make a good difference when it happens.

I also want ubiquitous access to all version of my ebooks; see next (except for the paper version, of course :-) , that's the disadvantage of paper!).

We only need to buy a book once
When I own a book, I want to own all versions of it (paper, ebook, audiobook) at no additional cost. This makes a lot of sense, since the medium shouldn't matter. I am buying the content, and I should pay for it once without having to pay for each medium separately!

Amazon has recently announced Amazon Upgrade: digital access to books purchased through Amazon. It is not clear yet how this will work or when it will be available. It's also not clear whether you will have to pay extra for this. I hope they do it right!

Universal search
I want to be able to search all my books and magazines, in different foramts, from different vendors, from one location. That's not too much to ask given todays search state of technology.

Magazines too!
Zinio has done a good job with emagazines. I read all my mags on Zinio, from PC Mag to Business 2.0 to Architectural Digest. It is very convinient, except for lacking universal access.

What's next?
We are moving there, slowly but surely. I beleive that within 10 years paper books will be going out, and convinient, instant, global access and search will be in.

Many people are emotional about paper books. They say "books cannot be replaced", and they mean paper books. However, I remind them that the medium (stone, papyrus, paper, electronic) is not the book, and I do agree that books will never disappear from our lives, but not necessarily on paper! The shift that's happening right now from physical to digital books has far greater impact than when we shofted from stone to papyrus to paper!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Al Jazeera Interview

I was hosted by Al Jazeera Arabic Channel tonight for a 30-minute program, Beyond the News, to discuss the coming World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis from 16-18 November 2005. The host was Mohamad Kraishan and the other guest from Cairo was Dr. Abdel Monem Saeed, head of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

This is the second time I was invited to talk about this issue on Al Jazeera. The first was in December 2003 during the first summit in Geneva, on Minbar Al Jazeera program.

The discussion revolved around America's control of the Internet, what it means, and what the various parties have to say on this issue. I will elaborate more on this program and the summit later on, including:

  • Internet governance
  • Human rights and freedom of expression; Internet prisoners
  • Freedom on knowing; Internet censorship
  • The economic factors
  • The Digital Divide

My other live contributions on Al Jazeera include the reality of Muslims in Science and Technology in November 1997 and the Role of the Internet as a Means to Communicate Islam in October 1999.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I just love del.icio.us!

it is really liberating to be able to save, tag and comment any webpage from anywhere, knowing that u'll be able to go back to it any time easily from anywhere. the lack of it was holding me back for years, unnecessarily worrying more about how to synchronise my contacts from home, office, notebook, mobile, etc., rather than actually focusing on the contents of those pages and enjoying them.

not any more! and it is easier to find a link than in IE.

despite the low rating it got recently from PC Mag, i love del.icio.us! it is liberating!

and the concept of read-once tag that i came up with today is nice. i can go back later to items that i wnated to read, then i'll remove the link once i read it.
update: oct 5, 2006: the tobuy tag is also helpful for marking items you plan to buy online at some point.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The social web

(this entry is still being developed)
The social web (or web 2.0 as some call it) is nothing less than a paradigm shift in computing, communication, media and life. When someone says this, he or she is sometimes accused of being too futuristic and too excited about cutting edge technology. But I am more excited about the social, cultural, and economic implications of technology than technology itself. Mind you, many of the technologies involved in the social web aren't cutting edge at all!

As a way of showing that, see how researchers were working hard at making machines smart enough so we can talk to them and they would understand us. But that failed. Because we don't want to talk to machines. We want technologies to help us talk to each other quickly and easily, and that's what worked. Skype worked. Blogging and Podcasts and Wikis worked. The 'social' applications of technology worked.

Here are a few concepts that make up the 'gravitatoinal core' of web 2.0:

Web 1.0Web 2.0
People consume contentPeople generate content
dominant platform: desktopdominant platform: the web
directories (taxonomy)tagging ("folksonomy"): spontaneous organization through the actions of the group
stickiness syndication
personal websitesblogging
Britannica OnlineWikipedia

There are now browsers, like Flock, that focus on enabling you to take advantage of new web contribution technologies, providing practical, built-in support for blogging, shared favorites, shared photos, and RSS.

Media is one of the areas affected most by this shift. 'Citizen reporting' is rapidly becoming part of mass media. Anyone can report anything on his or her own blog. True, it is fairly unlikely that many people will read your blog (there are about 15 million blogs now, increasing by 2 million a month), but good citizen reporters will stand out.

Check the 'Social Machines' feature in the August issue of MIT Technology Review. It gives a very good look at what people are doing and the smart application that are coming out to help us become more social using technology. Also, while at it, check their very interesting blogs at trblogs.com.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

My Future Blogs

Shortly I will be writing about:
  • Memes: what are they? What is social evolution?
  • What's happeining in telecom? Will WiMAX change it all?
  • Search portals and their impact on media and society
  • Electronic games and the society
  • How I am digitizing my life: my digital magazines, books, photos, music, home videos; it's all over the place
  • Blogging: what's it doing to our media and life? How prominent will 'citizen reporting' be? Will we witness the rise of social democratic media? Glocalization?
  • What can I do to raise my kids to be successful in our times?
  • Wikis, how they are changing the way we collaborate on gathering and synthesizing knowledge
  • What I am reading nowadays

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Where is my data?

This would be more interesting if I could draw a chart for it (I promise to try), but my data is all over the world. Really? Really! Yours too. Read on to know how and why.

Before I answer 'where is my data', let me try to answer 'what is my data'. And I am talking here about data, not information or knowledge, as you may be aware of the difference.

My data includes, but not limited to, the following:

  • my Favorites: browser shortcuts, well categorized and maintained.
  • my Outlook PST files (I have a few of them; one for work, one personal, etc.), with the various data they contain (emails, contacts, tasks, calendar items, different files as attachments)
  • numerous files in different formats (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, MindMaps, etc.)
  • Chats I make with various people (usually evaporate the moment the chat ends)
  • media files: family photos, audoibooks, home video, music, etc)
  • Blogs: similar to this one, containing mostly text and photos. My Wikis probably fall in this category.
  • oh, and yes, 'physical' data on post it notes, scraps of paper, files and folders

Ok, so where is my data? As I said earlier, everywhere:

  • On PCs: one at the office, several at home, a notebook, a TabletPC (some I replace frequently)
  • On my company's Intranet
  • On my mobile devices: phones, still and video cameras, PDAs, media players.
  • Online: in web mail accounts like Gmail and HotMail,
  • Online: in online stores, like Audible, Soundview and Amazon (eBooks)
  • Online: in blog and wiki host accounts, like Blogger (here), seedwiki and JotSpot.
  • Online: in photo services like Yahoo's Flikr, HP's snapfish and Sony's ImageStation
  • Online: in social bookmarks managers like MyBookmarks and del.icio.us (still looking for the best one).
  • Stored on various media (CD, DVD, USB dirves)

Any problem with that? Many:

  • Some synchronized with other data, some not. I have to do that manually at times. I have several copies of many items (wasting storage), and different versions of many items (wasting time).
  • It is extremely difficult to search for and locate stuff, even though Google Desktop 2 does a great job to make that easier, but it still limited in scope and functionality.
  • I don't have an easy way to port data from one device to another
  • I don't have an easy way to backup my data
  • I don't have an easy way to reach all my data, even if I know where it is (if it is physically distant)
  • I don't have an easy way to manage the security and privacy of my data
  • I don't have an easy way to share my data with others in a controllable way

In a future blog I will analyze this further, as I believe it is an important issue for new technology to be used en mass.

Friday, July 08, 2005

I carry too many devices

Some all the time, some only when I need to:

  • mobile phone
  • audio player
  • PDA
  • car remote, several guarage door remotes
  • USB drive
  • headset
  • notebook or TabletPC
  • digital still camera
  • digital video camera
  • at some point: GPS

My ideal portable device will have all the above and more:

  • it will be one and only one
  • a lot of storage space to take all my media (100GB maybe?)
  • high-res, high-zoom still and HD video camera
  • 3CCD
  • a good media (A/V, photos) player
  • good-size, high-rez screen
  • advanced PDA functionality
  • good VoIP software; switches automatically from GSM to WiFi or WiMax
  • comprehensive connectivity (WiFi, bluetooth, 3G, WiMax?, wireless USB)
  • replaces other devices (home remote controls, guarage door controls, car keys?)
  • integrates with my smart home systems for remote monitoring and control.
  • a good wireless headset (which I can use for any audio device around me: TV, PC, etc.)
  • more far fetched: I can use it with ATMs, POS and ticket counters at theaters, museums.

I will be while until even some of this wishlist becomes true, as this requires so many haedware/software development breakthoughs and corresponding catch-up from service providers and location owners.

P.S. I also use too many tools to manage my media: a few for photos (picassa, Adobe PhotoShop Album, Flickr), one for audio (Windows Media Player), and a couple for video. I want to be able to manage them all from one and only one tool.